Analysis | Ohio State answers another challenge with come-from behind victory

Ray Stein
Ohio State defensive ends Zach Harrison (33) and Jonathon Cooper celebrate following the Buckeyes' 34-21 victory on Saturday. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

The first 10 games on Ohio State's football schedule played out like the speeds on a blender: stir, chop, pulse, mix, grind, shred, liquefy, whip, puree, emulsify.

Equally powerful on offense and defense, the Buckeyes simply destroyed opponents through mid-November, winning by a ridiculous average of 41.7 points per game.

The law of averages – and the closing schedule – suggested OSU couldn't keep up such a blistering pace. At some point, some pits were bound to fall into the mixer and clog up the works.

Sure enough, Ohio State's past three games have been as much about survival as style points. The Buckeyes overcame three lost fumbles to slip past Penn State on Nov. 23, then rode out an early deficit and some uncharacteristically shoddy defense before burying Michigan a week later.

Finally, on Saturday, OSU endured its worst half of football – by far – in twice falling behind Wisconsin by 14 points in the first half of the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis.

In the end, however, the Buckeyes were drinking another celebratory smoothie, riding a 27-0 second half to finish off the Badgers 34-21 and capture their third straight conference title.

“Three back-to-back wins like this, it shows you what this team is made of,” coach Ryan Day said afterward. “I think you've seen our talent, our execution, a lot of things, but today showed our team's heart.”

The payoff for Ohio State's comeback was the No. 2 seed in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The Buckeyes will meet third-seeded Clemson at 8 p.m. Dec. 28 at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

Of course OSU would have preferred to be the top seed in the four-team tournament to avoid a semifinal against the defending champion Tigers, but there were benefits for the Buckeyes to having to win the way they did against Wisconsin.

“The first half we got punched in the mouth,” receiver K.J. Hill said. “It was motivation.”

The Badgers had lost by 31 points to OSU in October, but came out Saturday employing new looks on offense by using quarterback Jack Coan as a runner, as well as wrinkles on defense by increasing the heat on Buckeyes QB Justin Fields, who was limited with a left knee sprain.

Wisconsin led 14-0 early in the second quarter, and it wasn't until the final minute of the first half that Ohio State scored, on J.K. Dobbins' 2-yard run. But then the Buckeyes allowed the Badgers to drive 75 yards in four plays, making the score 21-7 at halftime.

OSU didn't flinch.

“We knew we didn't play our best half of football, so we regrouped at halftime and came out with energy and got back to our normal ways,” Dobbins said. “We were very positive. We knew they gave us their best shot, so we just encouraged each other … to play all four quarters.”

Fields played far better in the second half, completing 12 of 17 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns. His 16-yard scoring pass to Jeremy Ruckert, who made a spectacular one-handed catch, swung the momentum in Ohio State's way on the fifth play of the half.

The Buckeyes scored on their first five possessions of the second half and clamped down on Coan and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, who had 135 yards at halftime but only 13 yards on seven carries in the second half.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime victory,” Fields said. “I think the team knew we already had it in us. I'm just glad the world got to see what this team was made of.”

Ohio State vs. Clemson

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 28

Where: Glendale, Ariz.


Radio: WBNS FM/AM (97.1/1460)

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